- Jam City's first album in five years is a triumph of catchy, neon pop.
- The first track on Jack Latham's third album explodes into a shock of electric guitar—wailing, triumphant, bittersweet, like a bedroom pop version of a Prince solo. To those who stopped paying attention after Classical Curves, the UK artist's brilliant 2012 album, that opener might come as a surprise. Less so those who heard Jam City's indie rock-tinged Dream A Garden, or the Earthly mix series. Still, Pillowland comes after a series of semi-official releases and a dump of old unreleased material—the musical equivalent of cleaning out your closet to make room for a new wardrobe. And Pillowland is certainly something new. Brash, vibrant and psychedelic, it's a blinding sugar rush of a record that recasts Latham as a DIY pop troubadour, now with the chops—and the catchy tunes—to back it up.
Latham says Pillowland was the product of turning a corner in his life. It sounds like it. In all the ways Dream A Garden was hesitant and elusive, this one is elated and extroverted. It's a kaleidoscope of pop styles cherry-picked from the '80s, '00s and '10s, all delivered in an aesthetic full of distortion and earnest, yelping vocals. Latham has been warbling over guitars since 2015, but tracks like "They Eat The Young" make more sense in the era of artists like A.G. Cook, gupi and Fraxiom, who mix the sterling melodies of turn-of-the-millennium pop with extreme sound processing, pitch-shifting and itchy-feet tempos.
On "Climb Back Down," Latham's voice sits behind a cheesecloth layer of distortion, losing none of its poignance as he sings of "standing my ground" and "demanding respect." That message of self-assurance forms the album's moral core, an idea repeated in the ecstatic climax of "I Don't Want To Dream About It Anymore," a track about obtaining the love you've always pined for. This feels like the song Latham has been trying to write for five years, full of the tension, vocal histrionics and grandoise instrumentation of a good power ballad. It even ends with canned crowd applause, as if Latham were applauding himself for his own job well done. It feels deserved. In the last five years, he's become a clearer, stronger songwriter, with better tools to realize a vision that once seemed far off.
This has been a transformation long in the making—for my money, some of the best things to Latham's name were those Earthly mixes, which took all kinds of '80s music and put them through a psychedelic wringer of effects. Pillowland is his first record that lives up to and even exceeds the Earthy series in sheer creativity, melody and outpouring of emotion. It's an idea that started with the all-original Earthly 000 mixtape two years ago, and fully blooms here. Latham no longer needs to lean on other people's guitar music (for lack of a better term) to get his ideas and feelings across. With Pillowland he's made a powerful statement of self-determination, and a pretty great pop record.
05. They Eat The Young
06. Baby Desert Nobody
07. Climb Back Down
08. Cruel Joke
09. I Don't Wanna Dream About It Anymore